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The Fire of the Jaguar

Marble and Serpentine Kuripés
Marble and Serpentine Kuripés

Many native tribes in South America practice the tradition of the spoken word.  Often spun into great tales, these stories have the function of informing the people of cultural values, survival techniques, and explanations about the natural world. In this blog, we shed light on the ancient story of how mankind received the gift of fire in the story: ‘The fire of the jaguar’.

Did you know that we have Kuripés inspired by important spirit animals? We added these marble and serpentine Kuripés to our assortment which is inspired by the Jaguar. The jaguar is one of the most important shamanic animals because it is often said that the jaguar is the great protector of the shaman as he navigates between earth and other realms.

The Fire of the Jaguar

Long ago, people did not have fire. They did not cook their food. They ate honey, hearts of palm, rotten or wet wood, caterpillars, and fungi. When they killed game, they cut the meat into small pieces and laid it out on rocks so it could warm in the sun.

One day a boy was walking in the forest and saw two macaws flying off a high, rocky cliff. He told his wife, “I will take your brother to fetch the young macaws.”

The next day the boy and his wife’s brother went to the nest, which was situated in the forest some distance from the village. The sister’s husband cut down a tree with his stone ax and notched it to make it into a ladder. He then leaned it against the cliff for the boy to climb up to the nest. The sister’s husband did not notice that the boy had secretly found a stone, which he took with him on his climb up to the nest.

Although there were nestling macaws in the nest, the boy called down to his Sister’s husband, “There are only eggs in the nest”. “Throw them down,” commanded the Sister’s husband. The boy threw down the stone he had carried up to the nest, pretending it was an egg. The Sister’s husband caught the stone and it immediately broke his hand. He cried out in pain as he clutched his hand. In his fury, he pulled down the ladder and threw it into the woods. The boy cried out: “Sister’s husband, there are young birds in the nest!” but this was to no avail. The Sister’s husband returned home, leaving the boy alone in the nest. Several days passed, and the young boy almost died of hunger and thirst. He was reduced to eating his own feces and drinking his own urine.

When the boy was almost dead, a jaguar passed by at the foot of the cliff. He was carrying a bow and arrows, which were unknown to humans at that time. On his back, the jaguar carried a collared peccary (a smaller species of wild pig) which he had killed. The boy leaned out of the nest to get a better look at him, causing his shadow to fall across the jaguar’s path. The jaguar pounced upon it with beastly grunts and cries, mistaking it for a real boy. When he found nothing in his claws he looked up and saw the boy. He retracted his claws and covered his fangs with his paw and asked: “What are you doing up there?” The boy replied, “My sister’s husband took me to fetch some macaws, but I threw down a stone and broke his hand. He got angry and threw down the ladder and left me here! I am left to eating my own feces and drinking my own urine!” The jaguar then asked, “Are there macaws in the nest?” “Yes” replied the boy. “Then throw them down,” ordered the jaguar. The boy complied and the jaguar feasted upon the nestlings with ferocious roars and grunts, which terrified the boy.

When he had devoured the nestlings, the jaguar looked up again. “Where did your Sister’s husband throw the ladder?” he asked the boy. “Over there!” The jaguar fetched it and leaned it up against the tree again. He said: “Climb down, I’ll take you home and find you something to eat!”. The boy climbed about halfway down when an overwhelming fear suddenly struck him.  He went back up the ladder to the nest, crying.  The jaguar reassured the boy: “My son, I like you! Don’t be afraid!  Come down and I will give you food so you can grow up big and strong. You can then become my hunting companion.” The boy mastered his fear and climbed down. He sat down on the jaguar’s neck.

The jaguar carried the boy to his home. When they arrived, his jaguar wife was spinning cotton thread. When she saw them, she cried angrily: “H! kra pram-ti-re!”  “Why have you brought home this ugly and thin child of someone else?” The male jaguar responded: “I always have to hunt alone. I have brought home a son so he can become my hunting companion!”

In the jaguar’s house, the boy ate roast meat, which the jaguar’s wife cooked in an earth oven or roasted on grills above the fire of a jatoba log. The boy lived with the jaguars. He ate a lot of roast meat and became strong and robust.

One morning before dawn, the jaguar “father” left to hunt. As he left he instructed his wife: “Give our son meat if he grows hungry.”  As the day slowly passed, the boy became hungry and asked the female jaguar for some tapir meat from the ki (earth oven). The mother then ordered him to take venison rather than tapir. The boy did not listen and took the tapir meat anyway. He went to the far corner of the house to sit and eat it. the female jaguar ferociously growled at him in a menacing tone. When the boy look up, he saw the female jaguar stare at him with bared fangs. She came at him with her extended claws. The boy was so terrified that he fled from the house,  crying with fear as he ran. He climbed a tree in his panic

A long time passed. When the male jaguar finally came back from his hunt, he found the boy high up in the tree. ‘’What happened, son?’’ father jaguar asked. The boy told him what had happened. Father told him to climb down and carried him home again on his back. When they arrived He argued with his wife and ordered her: “Do not behave this way toward our son!”

However, when the next day the male jaguar came back from his hunt, he again found the boy, terrified in the tree. The male jaguar took the boy to the river bank to bathe. He told him: “Don’t be afraid of my wife. I will make a bow and arrow for you. If my wife threatens you again, kill her with it. Kill her by shooting her in her breasts.  If this happens, flee back to your village and I will go in the opposite way.”

Soon the male jaguar went hunting again. As usual, he told his wife to give the boy whatever he wanted to eat. Once again, the female jaguar threatened the boy when he took one kind of meat from the ki after she had ordered him to take another kind.

This time when she menacingly approached, the boy took up his bow and arrow and placed an arrow on the string. The jaguar mother screamed in terror, “Wait, don’t!” but the boy shot her with an arrow to her breast. He then shot another arrow into her other breast. She was dead.

The boy gathered the roast meat from the ki into a basket and grabbed the bow and arrows. He took some cotton string and took a glowing ember from the jatoba log. He then fled the house toward the village.

The boy arrived at the village after dark and could only find his mother’s house with difficulty. Once inside, he managed to locate his mother and sister by touch.

The men of the village assembled and called the boy to join them. Upon seeing the bow and arrow, the cotton string, and the glowing ember, they asked the boy to lead them back to the jaguars’ hut, so they could bring the fire back to the village. For the journey, all the men changed into animals when they entered the forest.

The strongest man transformed himself into a tapir and carried the burning log back to the village. Another man became a collared peccary and carried the rest of the cotton strings. A third changed into a deer and took the basket of roast meat. Several species of toad and of two types of birds also joined on the journey. The guan and the tinamou swallowed all the sparks that fell from the log, turning their throats red forever.

When the men arrived back in the village they morphed back into humans. They brought the log to the center of the village where they chopped it into pieces with a stone ax. These small bits of fire were then given to the women in all the households.

Since that day people have had fire for cooking. They no longer have to cut up meat into tiny pieces in order to get it barely warmed by the sun. They no longer eat foul things like fungus, rotten wood, or caterpillars. From that moment on, men ate cooked meat.


Waking Herbs does not own the rights to this story. This story is based on:
Turner, T.S.(2017) The fire of the Jaguar. Retrieved from: https://haubooks.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/978-0-9973675-4-6-text.pdf



Wakingherbs is a family project established in Ecuador. We work from Ecuador and The Netherlands where we have an office and distribution centre.